The Bombay High Court has scheduled the pronouncement of its verdict for January 5, 2024, in a series of petitions challenging the recently-amended Information Technology (IT) Rules aimed at combating fake news related to the government on social media. A division bench, comprising Justices Gautam Patel and Neela Gokhale, had reserved the verdict on September 29, promising an initial decision by December 1, which has now been extended.
The amended rules include the provision for establishing a Fact Checking Unit (FCU) to identify and highlight fake, false, and misleading information on social media platforms. The Union government assured the court that the FCU would not be notified until the judgment in the case was delivered.
Advocate Rajat Nair, representing the Union government, requested the court to defer the matter until after the Christmas vacation, reaffirming the commitment not to activate the FCU until then. Consequently, the court has scheduled the verdict announcement for January 5, 2024.
The High Court heard a collection of petitions challenging the amended IT rules, with petitioners such as stand-up comedian Kunal Kamra, the Editors Guild of India, and the Association of Indian Magazines. They argued that the rules were "arbitrary and unconstitutional", expressing concerns about potential infringement on citizens' freedom of speech and the right to expression. The petitioners urged the court to declare the amended rules unconstitutional and prevent the government from taking action against individuals under these rules.
In response, the Centre clarified that it supports diverse opinions, criticism, satire, and humor, emphasising that the rules aim to prohibit the dissemination of fake, false, and misleading facts on social media platforms.